Andrew: Cooking in the Midst of Work and a Growing Family
Over the years, Andrew has invested in learning new cooking techniques, acquiring good kitchen knives, finding new and healthy favorites, and choosing to make dinner a no-stress event.
Starting at the age of seven, Andrew has been a true Kitchen Hero. Not only has he always paved his own way for making sure dinner gets on the table, he has also adopted some great philosophies for navigating the everyday challenges of home-cooking while working full-time, raising healthy eaters, and adjusting to the fluctuating nausea that his wife experiences as she’s pregnant. Find out about his journey and his tips for success in the kitchen below!
Name: Andrew Dire
City, State: Fontana, CA
We cook for: EVERYONE (no, seriously)
Outside of the kitchen I: am a full-time CPA, a husband of 10 years, and father of 2.
My favorite cuisine to cook is: It used to be Italian but Cook Smarts has corrupted me and now it’s Asian stir-fries.
If we could have any cooking superpower, it would be: super-speed prep!
I cook because: it’s cheaper, healthier, and honestly more convenient than takeout for a family with 2 very small children (I could have dinner ready by the time I’ve got the family dressed and loaded in their car seats most days).
Favorite Cook Smarts meal so far: My family’s favorite is the Thai Chicken Peanut Noodles, but my personal favorite is the Grilled Pork Tenderloin (I mix and match sides all the time, so the Grilled Pork Tenderloin goes great with the cumin broccoli from the Summer Squash Enchiladas).
How did you learn to cook?
Well, without too much of a sob story, I learned to cook mostly out of survival. My family wasn’t always the most nurturing to me growing up, so when I was hungry, it was a challenge to get the time of day. Around 7, I got frustrated and just started picking up a mac and cheese or Hamburger Helper box and following the directions on the back. As my parents realized I wouldn’t burn the house down, they just let me be and I started exploring more and more.
What’s been your biggest cooking challenge?
To date, my biggest continuing challenge is ensuring I have the energy to cook in the evenings. I am the breadwinner of the family, so after work, my wife will take care of the kids and I will make dinner. This arrangement works for us, but handling knives after a full day at work is not always a safe choice. We try to prep beforehand, but with very small children, sometimes it’s just enough to eat something. As with our first child, after the first year everything gets a little easier with a little more sleep, so I anticipate we’ll be on track soon to cook more.
What challenges have you faced when cooking for your pregnant wife?
The challenges here are the same as my 4-year-old: despite approving the menu and telling me that what I’m cooking smells good, when the fork hits the mouth, the food hits the trash. Unlike the picky toddler though, this choice really isn’t her in a lot of ways since hunger and nausea is so fickle during pregnancy, so the best plan is simply to just cook and if it doesn’t get eaten to not take it personally.
I struggle to remember sometimes that cooking is both a personal expression of self and merely a task that has to be done. To not go crazy all the time, it helps for me to focus on the latter much more than the former.
“[Since starting Cook Smarts, the] biggest change is the variety of foods that we eat and a clear increase in the amount of vegetables that we integrate into dinner.”
What strategies have you used to raise healthy eaters?
My philosophy is, “If you have willpower at the store, you don’t need to have willpower every time you open the pantry.” Our primary strategy is to just remove the choices from the house that we wouldn’t want the family eating. I get my daughter to try one bite of whatever I’ve made, which I usually compartmentalize for her without the sauce. As much as I’d love to say getting her to try a bite is easy, this part is usually a 30 min soiree with the kicking and gnashing of teeth.
Anyway, if she doesn’t like the main dish, we then let her eat something else. The key here is that the only things we have in the house are relatively healthy choices, so her fallback meal is usually fruit, string cheese, or some raw, crunchy vegetables like carrots or broccoli. If that’s what she eats for dinner, that’s fine for us honestly, and the rest will come later.
What’s been the biggest change in your family’s cooking / eating routine since starting Cook Smarts?
The biggest change is the variety of foods that we eat and a clear increase in the amount of vegetables that we integrate into dinner. As I mentioned, I learned to cook from a box, and so I’ve never really had any understanding of the world of ingredients that’s available. My wife came from a family that didn’t really cook either, so we’ve all had a moment trying things that we would have never tried otherwise. Great examples for us are chard in the Chicken Stew with Chard and the kale in the Pineapple Coconut Fried Rice. We would make things similar to this in the past, but adding the vegetables makes the dish both better and healthier: a clear win-win.
Tell us about your proudest kitchen moment.
So in addition to cooking normal dinner for the weekends, I also entertain and cook for groups a LOT. 2 years ago, I got a pellet smoker, and my newest cooking adventure has been to master the grill. It’s been going quite well, but my wife and I decided it was time for some formal training, so this last November, I actually went to an official BBQ class. After returning, my proudest moment was smoking a full 16 lb brisket for my friend’s birthday.
What are your tips for health and success in the kitchen?
- Knives are your friend: It’s been said before, but a good set of knives and the skills to use them pays incredible dividends in the kitchen. ~5 years ago, I bucked up and bought a set of Cutco knives and I’ve never regretted that decision. You’re going to spend a lot of time prepping things, so spend your time / money making that easier.
- Organize your space to fit your needs: Kitchens come in all sizes, but whatever space you have, optimize it for the way you like to cook. For example, I realized I use a few things a disproportionate amount of time, so right next to my stove, I now have a little dish with butter, cooking oil in a dribbler, honey, and a salt + pepper shaker. It just didn’t make sense to keep those buried in the cabinet because I’ll end up pulling them out for every meal. Also, since Cook Smarts tends to use a lot of similar ingredients (stock, soy sauce, etc.) I have a “greatest hits” basket in my pantry that has what I’d consider the most used ingredients. This also makes it easier to know if I need more of something when I check the weekly grocery list.
- Work / Life / Kitchen balance is absolutely essential. I’m a full-time CPA, and as much as I love to cook, sometimes I don’t feel like it or get stuck at the office etc. If you don’t want to burn out, have a backup plan in case things don’t work out. I always keep a frozen meal in the freezer in case I get stuck at work and won’t be able to make dinner before 7, and I always give myself the grace to say that we’re making grilled cheese or getting takeout some nights. Food isn’t worth stressing over, so I just choose to not do it.
- And always remember the golden rule: If you get frustrated, it’s just dinner.
Andrew, thank you so much for taking time out of your busy work and home life to give us a window into your cooking experience throughout your life. We’re so glad that you and your whole family have enjoyed trying new cuisines and bringing veggies into a more prominent place at your table through our meal planning service! We wish you the absolute best as you continue to be a stellar home-cook!